An Archaic Definition of Leadership

LeadershipDefnArchaic2 “A position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.”  This is Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of the word leadership.  I envision that someday there will be an italicized word next to this definition – archaic.

First of all there is no need for using the word leadership in this way.  There is already a better word for this, it’s management.  When referring to a position within an organization, just call it management.  Management is about position, structure, authority, business.  Leadership is about people, relationship, influence, life.

Often leadership is used to distinguish upper management from lower management.  But again this isn’t necessary.  Call it upper management or executive management.  Please don’t call it senior management, though, that has its own issues.  Senior management conjures up images of silverbacks in the boardroom drinking their discount coffee.

Many times leadership is used as a euphemism for management, to glorify management.  This has the opposite effect, however, if you stop and think about it.  It suggests that management has such a negative connotation that it needs to be called something else in order to be respected.  But this is absolutely not the case.  The position of manager is a very distinguished role within an organization.  If there is a negative connotation it is an issue with the person in the position and not the position itself, and needs to be addressed as such.  Call management management and respect it for what it is.

Within the role of manager is a great opportunity to serve the people of the organization.  And within that service then is a great opportunity for leadership.  The leadership comes not from the position itself but from the service carried out within that role.  Service builds trust.  Trust builds leadership.  The key thing to remember is that this is true of any role within the organization, not just management.

Not only is it unnecessary to use the term leadership to describe management but it is also harmful.  It’s not just a matter of semantics.  To me this is a moral issue.  I firmly believe that there is no greater impediment to individual growth and personal fulfillment than all the confusion around leadership.  And it is just as much a detriment to those in management as those on the outside, if not more.  I’ve gone into detail on this in the past and I’m sure I will again in the future.

Here is an exercise to help think this through.  For one day, challenge yourself to pause for a second every time you are about to use the word leadership.  Consider what you are referring to and ask yourself – Is this really about leadership or am I in fact talking about management?  If it’s management then use the word management.  If indeed you are discussing leadership then by all means use the word leadership.  Just call it what it is.

It may seem pretentious of me to want to rewrite the dictionary.  The main point is that we have a great opportunity at hand.  Our concepts of organizations are being redefined and rethought.  The structured paradigm of the industrial age is crumbling.  Now is a very good time to pause and think about how we use the word leadership.

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3 comments on “An Archaic Definition of Leadership

  1. Michael Ayers says:

    Equally, think about your use of the term ‘manage’ today:

    “Yes, I can manage to make it to that meeting.” “Yes, I will manage to get that done before I leave.” “No, we cannot manage to make a full payment this month.” “Of course, I am trying to manage the issue with the engineering organization.” “I’m not sure I can manage that without calling on some extra resources.” “I wish the city would do a better job of managing the traffic through downtown.” “I wonder how Dallas will manage the Ebola situation …” “How did they manage to get [fill-in-the-blank] so messed up?”

    As Daniel writes, “Management is about position, structure, authority, business.” And even if it is subconscious, that connotation is present in all these examples.

  2. […] An Archaic Definition of Leadership by @DanielBuhr A call-it-what-it-is challenge to rethink and redefine leadership.  […]

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